Sunday, March 20, 2016

Barabbas and the Thieves

Today we get the long gospel. Passion Sunday is when the church has us read the story of the triumphal entry before mass and then the 2 long chapters of the crucifixion account as the gospel. It makes it very hard to reflect on anything. You get information overload. Reflection is much easier with small sections of scripture.  

Still 3 characters stood out to me in today's reading. The character of Barabbas along with the 2 thieves that are crucified with Jesus. All 3 deserve to be crucified. OK, nobody really deserves crucified. It is an inhumane way to execute someone. Inhumane groups like ISIS still do it but no modern nation has death penalties close to this cruel. Still these 3 people committed crimes which they knew carried the penalty of crucifixion so in that sense the deserved to be crucified. 

Barabbas gets a reprieve from his death sentence. Jesus suffers the penalty that should have been his. In some way we are all Barabbas. In fact, his name means son of the father. Bar is son and abba is father. We are all sons of our father so we are all Barabbas. OK, some of us are daughters of the father but the point is the name really includes us all. We all deserved the punishment Jesus got. 

The 2 thieves don't get a reprieve. They suffer and they die along with Jesus. One repents in the midst of His suffering and has the famous dialogue with Jesus in Luke 23:42,43:
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
As comforting as these words are emotionally and spiritually they don't relieve his physical pain and eventual death.  He profits from his suffering but he still suffers. The other thief profits nothing from his suffering. There is no indication of repentance from him. He does ask Jesus for help but in a mocking and faithless way.

It occurs to me that these are 3 ways we encounter suffering. We can be spared suffering by God. We can actually suffer and have that suffering lead to repentance and bring us closer to God. Or we can actually suffer and mock God for letting us suffer. 

With Barabbas, we are not told what happens to him. He goes free and Jesus dies in his place. Then what? We don't know. Yet that makes all the difference. Barabbas has a chance to change his life. Yet there is also a chance he doesn't. He might not even realize that it was God granting him this grace. Often it goes that way with me. I see God's hand in sparing me from suffering only much later. In the moment you just feel like you caught a break. You don't see it as a moment of grace that calls for a change in behaviour. 

People wonder why God allows suffering. The truth is that God rescuing us from our suffering rarely brings us closer to Him. It is when He walks with us through our suffering that we really embrace Him or we rebel against Him. Jesus literally walked with these two thieves in their suffering. He is every bit as close to us when we suffer. He is every bit as willing to open the doors of paradise for us. 

Then there is the last thief. He know who Jesus is and you would think at this point he has nothing to lose by asking for salvation. Yet he does not. Pain can do that. We can get angry at God and not be in any space for conversion. One of the many reasons not to leave conversion until your deathbed. We really need to know what we believe before we face death and then we can meet our moment. 

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